Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Kazuya Minekura, Tokyopop, et al. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This story is a combination of three things: character study, relationship study, and an attempt to explain why Kanan refuses to let Gonou rescue her, because that's been bugging me ever since I read Hakkai's backstory. It went kind of non-chronological and symbolic on me, but this is the best I can do so I'm leaving it here. Manga canon, since I've only seen about two episodes of the anime, and that was something like five years ago.

A note about timing: in vol. 5 of Saiyuki (at the start of the 'Be There' arc), the Three Aspects tell Sanzo, "Half the population of a village was killed two months ago. And the other day, another thousand of Hyakugan Maoh's tribe." To me, this is solid evidence that it took Gonou about two months to figure out where Hyakugan Maoh's castle was, and then travel there.

Summary: Kanan and Gonou. Two become nothing.

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Samsara
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They take her away as afternoon bleeds into evening.

She fights, of course. Kanan doesn't have Gonou's deceptive strength, but he's taught her about leverage and joint locks, and she manages to slice open one of her attackers with a long kitchen knife before they overpower her and bind her arms to her sides with strips of her own dress.

"Hyakugan Maoh's gonna fucking love you, bitch," one youkai snarls as they drag her toward their waiting dragon. She stumbles through the deserted streets, past eerily silent houses with their curtains closed tight at midday. "You're gonna regret making trouble."

All she can think of is Gonou -- her lover, her brother -- returning to an empty, ransacked home. He's the center of her world, the source of gravity that defines her; she's the center of his, the sun that lifts his darkness. Family is everything. Separation is death. If she's not there, who will protect him?

Hyakugan Maoh lives far away, in unmapped forests on the other side of Chang-An. No human has seen his castle and lived.

Kanan wonders how long it will take Gonou to find her.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

They only talk once about the years apart.

"Nothing mattered; nothing was real," Gonou says, his lips pressed against the back of her shoulder as they lie in bed, stealing a night together from under the nuns' watchful, judging eyes. "I learned everything I could, but none of it meant anything. I got into fights, but pain is an illusion the body imposes on the soul, and other people's pain is an even more paper-thin fa├žade. The nuns tried to make me care about people, tried to make me feel love or guilt or hatred -- to feel something, anything -- but I can't get out of myself without you. It's just me and my thoughts, spiraling in forever."

"I lost myself," Kanan says, weaving her fingers through his as their hands rest on her belly. "The world was so much and I was so small. I didn't matter; Kanan was just a sound the air makes, not my name. I stopped talking, stopped thinking -- I don't remember more than a few days of that last year before you found me. They tell me I spent all my time in the gardens, that I'd listen when someone gave me an order, but I'd get distracted and spend hours staring at a blade of grass or a slug inching along a leaf."

"I won't let anyone take you away again," Gonou says.

"I know. But if -- only if -- something does happen, I promise I'll wait for you," Kanan says, twisting within Gonou's embrace to meet his eyes, as poison-green as her own. "Promise you'll wait for me, too."

"I'll always find you. You're my other half."

"Forever, right?"

"Yeah."

In the darkness, pressed so close together that their hearts synchronize through the veils of flesh and bone, this is their only truth.

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Hyakugan Maoh is fascinated by her eyes. "So brilliant, like living emeralds," he says, tracing a talon along her cheekbone, up the side of her nose, and back through her eyebrow. "I wonder if you have divine blood in your family, diluted enough that only the coloring remains."

Kanan spits in his face.

Hyakugan Maoh laughs. He throws her onto his bed and dives after her in a swirl of silk sheets. His taloned hand pins her in place like a butterfly caught in a collector's trophy case. His knee spreads her legs. He drives into her.

Power beats against her skin like lightning, freezing her body. She isn't strong enough to stop him. She can't protect herself.

She wants to let go, to wisp away into the air, to stop being Kanan -- then she wouldn't hurt; then Hyakugan Maoh would have nothing left to arouse his interest -- but she promised Gonou to wait for him. Gonou will come. He'll rescue her, and they'll find a new home, a new place without any tainted memories.

When Hyakugan Maoh bends his head, Kanan lunges for his neck, teeth bared.

He backhands her, casually, and she fades into the little respite of unconsciousness.

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Their parents tell Kanan and Gonou to protect and cherish each other, always and forever. Family is the foundation of all things.

When the nuns lead Gonou in one direction and Kanan in another, Kanan screams herself breathless until she faints. Her last clear memory is of Gonou's hands flailing toward her, clawing the air, trying to reach across the gap. The days afterward are misty at best; she has no anchor to mark her personal experiences out from the immensity of life.

Years later, she hears a voice, ragged and soft, saying, "Kanan? Kanan, is that you?" and it occurs to her that Kanan is her name. She looks up, lifts her hands from the damp garden soil, and sees a skinny boy with black hair, backlit and haloed by the setting sun. He kneels down beside her. One hand, trembling, stretches toward her face.

His eyes are green as poison.

"Gonou?" she whispers as the tips of his fingers kiss her cheek.

The boy is crying. Her brother is crying. Gonou is crying.

For the first time in years, Kanan finds the boundaries that hold her self separate from the universe, finds protection from the storm of life. Clinging to her brother, she swears over and over never to lose him again.

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Despite her eyes and her repeated attempts to kill him, it takes only one month for Hyakugan Maoh to tire of her and send his guards out to fetch a new woman.

A single youkai leads Kanan down from her tower prison, toward the central courtyard. By now she's seen what happens to Hyakugan Maoh's past favorites, seen the bloody executions and ritual cannibalism he uses to test the nerve of his chosen soldiers. She knows how impossible a last-minute rescue would be; not even Gonou can fight a thousand youkai, especially not if he has to protect her at the same time.

"I'm sorry, Gonou," she whispers to herself. "I couldn't wait long enough." She feels the cold weight of chains on her wrists, the light touch of linen against her skin, the warmth of flickering torchlight on her hair, and prepares to melt into those sensations, unraveling the threads of her self into the weave of the world.

"Oh, you won't be dying, Cho Kanan. Not yet," a cool voice says.

Kanan whirls as best she can in her chains, and stares at the pale youkai with long hair and fine silk robes. This is Hyakugan Maoh's son, Chin Yisou. What does he want with her? Isn't one tormentor enough? Hasn't she paid enough for freedom?

"My father is done with you, but I'm not," Chin Yisou says, waving one clawed hand to dismiss the guard. "Are you aware that you talk in your sleep? You call for one man, but sometimes you call him 'brother,' and sometimes you call him 'husband.' You think he'll come for you, yes? I'm curious to see how far he'll get, and it will be much more entertaining to have a tragic reunion scene before I step in and kill him. Don't you agree, Cho Kanan?"

She can feel power hovering around him, even stronger than his father's aura. His eyes whisper a promise of despair.

She throws a porcelain vase at his head and sprints down the corridor, toward the window.

He catches her within ten steps. His breath is chill on her neck.

Kanan prays for Gonou to forget her.

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"Hey, Gonou. Wouldn't it be nice to get married? It would explain why we share a family name, and if we ever had children, wouldn't it be good for them to have a stable family?"

Gonou looks up from marking essays and smiles. "We're not stable now?"

"You know what I mean," Kanan says as she slices an orange into sections. "I want to do things properly. I want to tell the world how much you mean to me."

"Mmm." Gonou lays his pen aside in order to steal a slice from her bowl. He bites into the fruit; the sweet-sour juice runs down his long fingers until he licks them clean. "Kanan, are you pregnant?"

She drops the knife. "No! You know we've been careful, and we'll go on being careful. I know we're not ready for a change that big. I'm just bringing it up now so we won't be unprepared if."

"They won't let us," Gonou says, serious now. "People already suspect we're siblings; if we confirm that we're not already married, they'll take that as proof. But I swear that if we could, I'd marry you right now. I don't know how to live without you."

Kanan looks thoughtfully at the knife on the table, and then stands to fetch a clean blade from the drawer. "Then let's get married; we don't need a government paper to make it real. We're already joined by blood, but we'll bind ourselves by choice as well as chance -- me to you and you to me, so we'll never be separated again, never go back to being half people." The knife is razor-sharp; it parts the skin on her palm with barely any pressure.

Gonou lifts the blade from her hand and turns it on himself. "Forever," he says.

"Yeah."

Their fingers twine, sticky with blood, and they pledge their souls to each other.

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It's too early to be sure, but Kanan has always been sensitive to the movement of life. Even through the smothering, twisted aura that blankets Hyakugan Maoh's castle, she can feel the spark of chi, the faint stirrings of potential. In a way, she thinks, she should have expected this.

Hyakugan Maoh has no reason to be careful with his women, after all.

"We're family now, yes?" Chin Yisou says one day, perhaps a month after his father discarded her. "If you bear my half-sibling, that makes you my stepmother of sorts. I've never had a mother; I wonder if you'll teach me what I've been missing all these years, Cho Kanan." His smile is cold and sharp, like the steel jaws of a trap buried in snow. Kanan knows that he doesn't mean a word he says, that he's only prodding open wounds to see if she'll flinch.

Family.

Kanan has never wanted so badly to fray into nothingness, but she can't. She can't. She's waiting for Gonou, like she promised, even though she hopes he'll never come -- hopes he'll forget her, hopes he'll find someone else to light his darkness and prove to him that the world exists. She's waiting for Gonou, and there's a baby growing in her belly.

She's going to be a mother.

She thinks she may go insane.

Kanan needs Gonou; she can't think without him, can't exist without him. The world rushes in like a storm and overwhelms her until all she can cling to is his name, his face, and the surety that he'll find her. They're two halves of a whole, two broken shards of clay that fit together into a shape beautiful despite their flaws. Two of them, forever.

But what if two shards become three? Or if solving the puzzle destroys the pieces? He can't come here. She couldn't bear to see him die because of her; he has to live. They have to separate. Gonou has always been stronger than she is. Without him, she vanishes, but he can learn to live without her. He has to. He has to.

Deep inside, so deep she can't see to stitch the wound, her heart cracks. She starts to unravel.

"This is quite fascinating, Cho Kanan," the long-haired youkai says with a toothy smile. His face is blurred by mist, cut loose from any association with meaning.

Who is Kanan?

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"Hey, Kanan." Gonou leans against the door of their rented room, his reading glasses held loosely between his fingers. "You know the children's school outside town, the one we passed on our way in? I ran into the principal just now and he offered me a job. This town doesn't have any other school, so that place takes everyone: the rich, the poor, even orphans like us. I like that. The pay isn't very good, but we can live off it. Shall I accept? Shall we get a place together?" Late afternoon sunlight slants over the floor at his feet and reflects off his glasses.

Kanan sets down the suitcase and sits on the bed, her knees suddenly unwilling to hold her up. "A home?"

"Yes," Gonou says, walking in and closing the door behind him, casting the room in shadow. "People will guess that we're brother and sister -- even if I wear my glasses all the time and you act shy and look down, it's hard to hide our eyes -- but if we keep quiet, they won't have proof. We could stay here. We could make a real life. You could have a garden again."

Kanan pictures it, weaving the idea in her mind. In the morning they wake together; he cooks breakfast while she washes her hair. Gonou spends the day teaching children, making use of his knowledge and learning to deal with people he can't ignore or rebel against. She gardens, or shops, or maybe gets a job cleaning houses. In the evening Gonou comes home to the dinner she's made, and at night they sleep together, unafraid of nuns breaking down their door and tearing them apart.

"Yes," she says. "Yes. Let's stay here. Let's make a home."

"Just the two of us, alone together," Gonou says with a smile hidden in the corner of his mouth.

Kanan kisses him until happiness spreads over his whole face. "Gonou, thank you. And you know, we're really not alone anymore. We have each other."

"Forever, right?" Gonou says.

"Yeah."

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It's raining; she can feel the pounding water even here in the heart of the castle, like a heartbeat thrumming inside the stones. For a time she hears screams and scattered crashes, but those die, bleeding into the rain like she's bleeding her soul into the air.

"I believe this is the climax of our little story," a voice says, troubling the silence. "I wouldn't want to spoil things, so I'll take my leave of you for now, Cho Kanan. Please give my regards to your brother."

She hardly notices the voice depart. She wonders at the sudden stillness, but it suits the mist that wraps her mind, and she lets it soothe her as she kneels and touches her belly, touches the spark that traps her a bare handful of threads from complete self-negation.

"Kanan?" A new voice, ragged and soft, echoes from the stones. "Kanan, are you here?"

She looks up, blankly, into one poison-green eye, and it occurs to her that she recognizes the color. But both his eyes should be green, like a matched pair of emeralds; instead, the man's right eye is drenched in scarlet-black, as if he were crying blood. As if her lover were crying blood. As if Gonou were crying blood.

She is Kanan.

"Gonou?" She stares at her brother, his slender body wrapped in flickering torch-flame shadows. Surely Gonou can't be the one who laid this expectant hush on the castle. Surely he can't have come for her. There's so little left of her, so little to inspire this kind of madness.

But Gonou doesn't know that. Separated, they're blind. They never felt each other's pain when the nuns tore them apart. They only felt their own loss of balance.

"You're alive! You're really alive!" Gonou says, reaching through the bars of her cell to grasp her arm with blood-stained hands.

"Your right eye..." she begins, only to lose the thread of her thought. She tries again. "Why did you come here?" All he can take from this place is death. He can't die. He has to live.

"I'm so sorry, Kanan, for everything," Gonou says, leaning his face against the bars. "Let's go home, okay? I promise I'll protect you."

Blind. He's blind. Just like she's been blind. They can't go home; they have no home. He can't protect her; nobody can protect anyone else. If they can't live without each other, then even when they're together, are they really living?

"It's too late. All right?"

"What?" Gonou says. She lifts the knife from his side and steps back. Gonou's eye goes wide in shock. "What are you--"

Kanan smiles, to cover the cracks inside. "I'm carrying his child. The spawn of that beast is resting in my belly. That's why."

Family is everything. Whatever Hyakugan Maoh touches is tainted. She won't force Gonou to make that choice. She won't trap him in her nightmare.

There are so many things she wants to say: Open your eyes, Gonou. The world is all around you. Life is waiting for you to reach out. I can't hold your hand any longer. I can't protect you; I never could. I give you back your other half. Take my light to fill your darkness, and learn to live.

Live for me.

But words mean nothing, and people can't live for anyone but themselves. She can see that now. She can see everything now. She can even, finally, see herself: one part of the whole. Maybe next time around she'll understand sooner.

"Goodbye, Gonou." I love you, but nothing is forever. Forget me. Live for yourself.

She cuts the last threads.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

"Hey, Gonou." He's absorbed in his book, shutting out the world. That's no good, so she plucks a blade of grass, almost as green as their eyes, and traces it down over his brow and cheekbone. "Are you listening to me? Listen carefully: I love you."

"Same to you. What brought that on?" he asks, reaching across the picnic blanket to pull her close.

Kanan settles into his embrace, folds his hands over her belly. The summer evening is warm and peaceful and they have each other; she has no fear of the future. "Nothing in particular -- I just want you to know. As long as I remember you and you remember me, nothing can really separate us. So don't ever forget, okay?"

Gonou kisses the top of her head. "I'll remember. You and me, forever."

"Yeah."

Behind them, the sun sinks into darkness.

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AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I'm appreciate all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.